BAAS AIX/iTrax Event featuring Mark Waldrep

guitar_noir.jpgAbout 40 members and theirs guests were treated to some great music yesterday, courtesy Mark Waldrep and Bay Area Audio.

Between teaching at a local university, recording audiophile gigs at AIX Studios, and running, Mark Waldrep leads a very busy life. And did I mention Mark is also employed by a hot video startup?

One of the key elements of the event was the ability to compare/contrast 2-channel and 7.1 surround versions of Mark’s audiophile-quality recordings.  And what great music it was, especially since it included “private” (unreleased) acoustic tracks from the likes of Jennifer Warnes!

Here are some notes from the day (mainly from the 2-channel room:

  •  Most sessions began with a conversation by Gabriel Sakakeeny – Music Director for the American Philharmonic, former tube amp designer, music synthesizer inventor, and audiophile. (He’s probably a 007 agent too!  ;-) )
    • In addition to providing some very cogent comments during the sessions, Gabe also volunteered to teach some classes on “audio electronic” and “music appreciation.” BAAS members present were enthusiastic.
    • You can reach Gabe here.
  • We featured Medea and Minerva DAC’s from Weiss Audio (this link also contains a list of web sites featuring high-definition music). The Minerva (PM session only, as FedEx didn’t arrive until noon!) was particularly stunning – easy-to-install and very musical. [Thanks, Clive, for the Medea.]
  • We connected the Medea with the RME Fireface 400 firewire adaptor box (I bought mine here). Excellent (German) engineering, and great sonics. Another great option is the Apogee Duet ($500 street), especially for Mac’s. We also discussed the Bel Canto USB adaptor and the Lynx AES16 sound card.
  • The speakers were the uber Ficion F300‘s in stunning black laquor. They were great, especially since they were only out of the box for 4 days. Some of you will recall that they made my “Top 5″ list at RMAF 2008. They are described here.
  • The amplification was by Goldmund and the cabling by Verastarr, Oritek, and Furutech.grand-illusions-pc.jpg
  • Two important software utilities for Mac were discussed: Max (for ripping and transcoding formats) and Audacity (for really geeky stuff like sample-rate conversion.)
  • We also discussed the promise and perils of attenuation in the digital domain(often to elimanate the need for a preamp). Rather than rehash that thread, check out Bob Katz’s excellent articles here (read “Dither”).

I’m sure there’s some stuff that I’m forgetting, but duty calls….

Bob Walters

Sunday, January 25th, 2009 Bob, Events, General

5 Comments to BAAS AIX/iTrax Event featuring Mark Waldrep

  1. What a day it was indeed!
    For most of us it was two hours of sheer musicality. For Bob Walters it was a few months journey, from the time he heard the superb eFicion F300 speakers at RMAF and started talking with Mark Waldrep of iTrax about a BAAS event. Kudos to the never-ending audio enthusiasm and good Karma, Bob!

    This was first and foremost a music event. Mark Waldrep is a true down-to-Earth music lover with a passion for “better” music. For Mark, better music means a purist live recording, made without huge consoles with 500 sliders and/or multiple effect boxes. No overdubs either.
    In my own path in audio, I’ve come to realize the unique “trueness” of live recordings. The feel of the music is much more “there” and you are not distracted by constant gain and EQ adjustments, artificial balance changes, noise gates popping in and out and all sorts of “studio magic” that IMO better remain in the studio. Live recording embodies the moment where several performers got together to form art. It’s hard to be creative if you play only the drums with a tick track in the headphones…
    Mark’s philosophy comes to fruition with the AIX/iTrax releases. Mark is personally involved in the multi-track take and mix. The same tracks are offered in a variety of formats. In this event, we had the luxury of playing a multi-track AV session on BlueRay (not yet released) on Bay Area Audio’s excellent demo system in their home theater demo room.

    Speaking of work behind the scenes, I must mention Chris and the Bay Area Audio gang, which worked tirelessly on getting the speakers and extra chairs to the facility, running the eFicion speakers for days to break them in for the event and working so hard to integrate the rack for the home theater room to run with Mark’s music. BAAS is blessed to have their very generous support!

    One would think that with all that setup work, we will have a perfect setup and a “smooth sailing” through the event day, but in the true spirit of audiophiles, we can’t leave a good thing alone, can we?
    Bob’s main worry were the speakers. Big bass cabinets in an acoustically-dampened small room environment can overload the room, as we’ve witnessed in several events in the past. I listened to the speakers the day before the event, after they were running for a few days for burn in. The bass was mushy and not well integrated.
    After many “experiments”, it was obvious that power delivery is an issue for this system. In the morning of the event we were still swapping power cords and in a moment of “sheer revelation” I asked Bob to remove some fancy cords on the digital components and install his old backup $99 Furutech cords. Man, what a difference!
    If you wondered what was that purple (think Barney…) color in the middle of the black/silver, those are the ones. The moral of the story is that unless you experiment, you can’t tell much in audio.

    There are however some rules that need much less experimentation and one of those is good power filtering on the digital components. It never fails to extract more, or should I say, harm less?
    So that Saturday morning we were waiting for the promised power conditioner. Bob had his car loaded with “stuff” and did not bring one, so the late arrival of the Electric Bamboo conditioner had us all worried. In it went and it sure did its job in this setup. Is it a cure-all-problems box? Probably not, but in the few events I’ve used it, the unit seemed to help, particularly with digital source components. The bass quality in the 2-channel room went up a notch and the speakers were well-behaved at that point.

    But the best sound was reserved to the afternoon session, when the Weiss Minerva was delivered. Yes, a special delivery to the demo… That particular DAC has the advantage of taking Firewire directly from the server, so we did not need the RME firewire-to-coaxial box. The 2-channel setup became simpler and interestingly that DAC sounded good right out of the box, so it remained in the system for the afternoon session. It was only in the midst of listening to iTrax sessions that I realized that we left the RME’s switching supply plugged into the conditioner. I’m sure most people were wondering “what the heck is this guy doing in the middle of a demo” but the outcome needed no explanations. If you ever wondered what’s the effect of noise on digital, you should have been there. Real life demo in the flesh…
    Unfortunately, only those few who were there at the end of the day got to hear the 2-channel system with the eFicion speakers at its most glorious moment. There were no bass problems, no balance issues, no muddy sound. Finally just music!
    It felt so good to relax (for the third session in my case), close my eyes and enjoy the music. The music was great regardless of the system it’s played on, but at the end of that long long day it transcended the ordinary. It was a brief moment of… magic…

  2. ori on January 26th, 2009
  3. From now on, I’m going to always sign up for the 2nd session since they always seem to be more “dialed in” than the 1st session. :)

    Thanks for organizing the event. It was fun and I liked the combination of listening to music and discussion. I especially appreciated Gabe’s comments on different technical topics.

    Regarding the RME Fireface 400, did you experiment with any other firewire-S/PDIF interfaces from the pro-audio world? I see that there are cheaper alternatives from m-audio, echo, etc. Even at $1300 though, if the RME can make a good transport out of a computer, I’d seriously consider it.

    P.S. – It would be helpful if we could set up comment reply notifications so that I get notified if you respond to this comment.

  4. keya on January 26th, 2009
  5. Yes, in addition to my Transporter (which many of you have heard), I tried three other computer-to-DAC interface methods:

    1. A $30 USB-SPIDF ADAPTOR. This sounded so horrid that I couldn’t listen to it after 3 minutes. (It was limited to 44.1kHz too.)

    2. A NO-NAME CHINESE FIREFACE CLONE. This literally went up in smoke after playing for 10 minutes. Its lifespan was too short to judge sound quality.

    3. WEISS API1 FIREWIRE ADAPTOR. I got a demo unit from the Weiss distributor. I think that it is broken, so I can’t judge SQ on it either.

    The Fireface 400 took a bit of time to learn, but has worked flawlessly since.

    If I had a budget of only $500, I’d buy one of these:

    1. Bel Canto USB adaptor
    2. Apogee Duet
    3. An RME sound card
    4. Something used on A’gon or a pro board

    Note: If you can live with 24/96 and below (not a bad thing as 99% of music available there), many other options are available.

    I can’t figure out how to turn on reply-notification in this version of WordPress. Maybe subscribe to the RSS feed (but I see that link on home page is broken now too)? Yikes!


  6. Bob on January 26th, 2009
  7. I thought I’d write a couple comments about the AIX demo we recently had at a BAAS event, since it turned out to be a good eye/ear opener for me. I attended the morning session, and got there early enough to sit down and acclimate to the sounds in the multi-channel room. First thing that came to mind was, “why are the drums coming from the right rear of the room?” Several decades of listening to two-channel music gave me enough background to KNOW that this was amiss and contrary to “how it should be.”

    Eventually, the meet started and Mark Waldrep gave his presentation which included his vision of sound recording, reproduction, and appreciation. I could appreciate his points that he made with respect to instrument placement in a multi-channel recording, and his whole ideal of the sound he strove to achieve in the final product he produced. I really liked his philosophy of obtaining the purest recording of an instrument, or voice, possible, and then not mucking with it further. Nothing in what Mark said indicated that he’d think it is a good idea to convert back to analog, record it to tape, then play it back from tape and redigitize. Dumbing down is dumbing down, and Mark just doesn’t entertain such stunts.

    Later, we swapped rooms, and I got to enjoy many two-channel recordings of exceptional quality in a presentation that I was fully comfortable with.

    Nice thing from this event was that I got to walk out of there with a free sampler of AIX releases with DVD-A on one side and DVD-V on the other. Not having a DVD-A player, the choice of sides to play was pretty easy. So, I put this disc into my player last weekend to give it a fair shake. Knowing that both the “stage” and “audience” perspectives were available for each song, I opt to hear the “stage” mix for all of my listening. Again, I notice right off that it is a bit weird having the drums in the right rear of the room, but after a while I also notice that this mix is very easy to listen to and identify individual instruments in the soundfield. I stuck with it and listened to most of the extensive list of samples provided on this disc. At the second to last song, I decided to switch over to the “audience” mix. Whoa! After becoming used to the “stage” mix, the “audience” mix literally folded into a flat plane along the wall that I have my front speakers on. Sure, this was now a very traditional mix, and I never realized how flat and lifeless it is. It was like looking at a picture hanging on the wall instead of literally experiencing the music around me. Even more interesting, to me, is that in the “audience” mix there was still significant energy in the rear speakers, but it was a flat presentation in front of me. Going back to “stage” mix all of the instruments opened up, got plenty of space around them and lost a lot of congested feeling in the sound.

    When I first heard the “stage” mix, I was unable to notice the clarity of the instrumentation itself, because I was too caught up with the uneasy feeling of the different mix. After I took the time to give this new (to me) mixing style a chance, I found I may actually like it a lot. It really seemed to add a new level to the appreciation of music that I haven’t experienced yet.

    In summary, I’d like to thank Mark for taking the time to share his vision, BAAS for putting this event together, and BAA for offering the facility to have it.

  8. krre on February 5th, 2009
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